Wonderful Worth & Worthy Wonder: The revival of a forgotten concept to strike a balance in technological exhibition design
As museums develop their roles as social and political forces, the role of the exhibition designer has evolved and become more complex. The new role demands increased consideration as new technologies impact the demand for recreational learning experiences (Lake-Hammond & White, 2015). Nearly thirty years ago Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stephen Greenblatt introduced the terms ‘resonance and wonder’ to describe the viewer’s experience and connection to the exhibits. Greenblatt asserted both ‘resonance and wonder’ as essential to an exhibition experience but stressed the need for a balance between the two (1991). The significance of Greenblatt’s perspective has become more prominent with the current shift in museum exhibitions that engage technological forms of representation. This study asserts that Greenblatt’s argument continues to be relevant today, as museum professionals arbitrate the balances and imbalances posed between resonance, now interpreted as worth, and wonder. The terms were first defined through thematic analysis to identify consistent elements that produce the concepts and further applied to the narrative analysis on perspectives of technological integration in museums. Using the broader contemporary definitions of ‘wonder and worth’ this research then applied what was learned from the literature to a physical context by analysing use of wonder and worth in two current exhibitions; Te Papa’s 2015 “Gallipoli: Scale of Our War” and Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum’s 2014 interactive pen design. In doing so the main finding suggested that the balance of wonder and worth can be achieved through encouraging a human connection and empathy which can be extended with the use of new technologies that are appropriate for the intent of the exhibit. These findings were delivered in the form of a manifesto to facilitate the exhibition design process, encourage consideration for the balance between wonder and worth and lessen the stigma around technological representation in museums.